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Exhibition “The Passion for Flowers becomes Art” @Museo Clarence Bicknell @Bordighera

October 7 - November 30

Clarence Bicknell 1842-1918
An undiscovered but genial English botanist, artist, archaeologist and
There were many eminent Victorians. Clarence Bicknell is one that so far has not been
brought to the public attention. He was a man of many diverse interests and talents: field
naturalist, botanical artist, archaeologist, idealist and believer in Esperanto and communicator
in his various disciplines across language and border barriers. And he spent most of his life in
the Italian Riviera, exemplifying those Victorians that left their homeland to create a life in
warmer climes.
Clarence Bicknell was interested in various
aspects of the cultural landscapes of the
Riviera and the Maritime Alps, particularly
in the botany and archaeology of the region.
His interest in botany was not limited to
flowers in the wild, for he created his own
garden at Casa Fontanalba. He took into
account the need for protection and
conservation of the flora, as well as
collection and identification, and was thus
an early environmentalist. His recording of
the distribution of the regional flora as it
existed in the period around 1900 can be exploited as base-data for analysing ecological
changes that have occurred since then (decline, increase, migration of species).
Several of the research projects that we are considering are relevant to these themes:
‘biodiversity’, the ‘tangible and intangible legacy’ of the Ligurian heritage, the role of
foreigners in gardening in Liguria (cf. Hanbury, Penzig)
Bicknell’s international network of botanical correspondents (Burnat etc), his involvement in
the exchange of botanical specimens (Beguinot, Dörfler), and his network of archaeological
contacts (Cartailhac, Issel) illustrate the existence of a ‘European research area’ in the period
around 1900. The outbreak of war in 1914 put a brutal end to this frontier-free exchange of
material and ideas among scientists in Europe.
In his work on botany and archaeology Bicknell was an exponent of the increase of
knowledge by sharing. Instead of keeping his results to himself, he shared them widely with
others by means of correspondence and publication. In the field of archaeology he
contributed to the development of theory on the origins and purpose of the rock inscriptions,
but his most significant scientific input was his meticulous and comprehensive recording,
cataloguing, publication and dissemination of the material. In the field of botany he was
active in the international exchange of herbarium specimens, and contributed over many
years to the work of another scientist, the Swiss botanist Burnat.
In Bordighera the Museo Bicknell, a pioneering experiment in museology, made various
resources for archaeology and local history available to the general public and researchers.
Towards the end of his life Bicknell donated material to the Universities including Genoa
and Turin, where it is now an important part of their collections. In total 38,300 pieces of his
life’s work (rock engraving copies, pressed flowers, botanical watercolours, albums,
notebooks and letters) are preserved in 50 different museums and collections round the world.
Internationalism was an important aspect of his work. He spent the first half of his life in one
European country (England), the second half in another (Italy), and corresponded with
scientists in other European countries (France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland). Fluent in
Italian and French, as well as his native English, he was at ease with a multiple identity.
As a scientist, he conducted archaeological research in a frontier zone that is now in France
(the Meraviglie and Fontanalba valleys), but in his time was in Italy – a contested landscape
occupied by the military. In this connection we should reflect that prehistoric Europe was
frontier-free. For early man, the concepts of states and borders had no meaning, and for
prehistorians today, physical geography, not political geography, is the context for
investigating the origins of Europe’s culture and cultures
Bicknell’s interest in Esperanto, and his contribution to it through his writing and travel to
Esperanto Congresses in various parts of Europe, was another manifestation of his
internationalism. Esperanto has European roots and a global vocation Since its beginning, it
has been both a language – a vehicle for transnational communication – and a movement – a
vehicle for international cooperation. The Esperanto community, with its internationalist
approach and anti-war agenda, was deeply shocked by the outbreak of conflict in Europe in
The Clarence Bicknell Association, publishes new research on
and has ensured the creation of the film The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell in 2016, the
publication of the
Casa Fontanalba Visitors’ Book
in art facsimile form in 2017 by Matador
ISBN 978-1-7880-3796-9 hardback and the writing of Clarence Bicknell’s biography by
Valerie Lester for 2018.
Museo-Biblioteca Clarence Bicknell,
Via Romana, 39, 18012 Bordighera IM, Italy
24 October – 24 November
2017 Monday 8am-1pm and 1.30-5 Tuesday-Thursday 9-
Phone +39 0184 26360 not fully attended.
Clarence Bicknell Association
web: www.clarencebicknell.com
Clarence Bicknell background.doc


October 7
November 30
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Clarence Bicknell Museum
Via Romana 39
Bordighera, IM 18012 Italy
+ Google Map
+39 0184 263694

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